The indians of the Amazon basin are under tremendous pressure from loggers, timber poachers, miners, fishermen, squatters, and the massive, entrenched corruption of local and national bureaucrats. This is a population on the precipice: "white man's diseases" such as chicken pox, malaria, intestinal parasites, killed more Amazonian indians last year than in the previous 8 years combined. Those deaths are a direct result of the Brazilian government taking responsibility for Indian healthcare away from the Indians themselves and handing it over to entrenched bureaucrats.
The Amazon Co-op is a non-profit organization (funded in part by The Body Shop Foundation) which advocates for these underrepresented and exploited communities. The Amazon Co-Op is designed to develop business initiatives that will allow the indians to be financially self-sufficient. It has established, for instance, the only ISP/Internet cafe in Altamira, a city of 70,000 people on the edge of the reserve. Profits from the business go to fund education for the children of the 6 participating tribes.
But despite such successes, there is a feeling of desperation at the Co-op. My husband Gordon is on the advisory committee and just returned from Altamira with some disturbing stories.
The Indians are struggling against corrupt Brazilian municipalities who fail them right and left: many local politicians who are charged with protecting the indians and their land are in cahoots with illegal loggers. A recent $100 million World Bank grant to the Brazilian government for indian health care programs has nearly evaporated without any significant improvement in health services, and a disturbing increase in fatalities.
With what resources they can muster, the Co-op has helped the tribes build their own health clinic, an herbal "green pharmacy," and clean water systems for their villages, with little or no help (and sometimes in the face of sabotage, incompetence, and neglect by local officials and agencies).
Now the organization is fighting to win EU funds to set up a patrolling program around the perimeter of the reserve to keep out squatters, illegal miners, and timber poachers who steal approximately $26 million worth of mahogany logs from Amazon indian land every year, according to Greenpeace. The Brazilian government does nothing to prevent the theft, and nothing to punish the theives.
Find out more about the Amazon Co-op at their website, including ecotourism opportunities at their beautiful Tataquara Lodge on the Xingu River.